Summer Solstice by Sharon Olds

What intrigued me the most from the poem by Olds was the amazing imagery provided, and the occasional blend between the urban landscape she sets up for us along with the mention of nature. One of these first moments includes the lines, “Then the huge machinery of the earth began to work for his life, / the cops came in their suits blue-grey as the sky on a cloudy evening,” (Lines 6-7). The huge machinery referred to would be the police that response (and the other emergency services that might have appeared during such a situation, such as the possible firemen holding the “hairy net” at the bottom of the building). Even the way the color that the police uniforms are described as seems to give way toward a potential meeting of technology and nature, which might be difficult to see in an urban setting like a city. Following this train of thought I then presumed that perhaps what Olds was intending for us to see here was the prevalence of non-technology and how someone as overwhelmed by the technology around them (that it’d drive them to suicide) can be reassured that it isn’t all just technology.

First are the various allusions to life/death and birth/renewal. Some of these examples include such lines as, “while the man’s leg hung over the lip of the next world” (Line 18), “stretched as the sheet is prepared to receive at a birth.” (Line 22), “where he squatted next to his death…” (Line 24), and in the final lines of the poem, “…like the / tiny campfires we lit at night / back at the beginning of the world.” (Lines 38 – 40). Drawing from these allusions, we might be able to infer that Olds might be suggesting one of two things. Either that there is a strange sort of balance between technology and nature in that we might romanticize certain things as somehow being apart from technology, or that technology is something that comes naturally as we progress as a human race, and things like cigarettes came from something as simple (and probably not considered technology) as a campfire.

Another possibility in Olds poem, an extremely prevalent one, would be that of feeling as if one is trapped by technology, possibly being one of the reason in which the “he” of the poem might be threatening to jump in the first place. The line in the poem that most supports this possible theme is when Olds describes one of the officer’s bullet proof vests: “and one put on a bullet-proof vest, a / black shell around his own life,” (Lines 8-9).

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